Johann Sebastian Bach

Biography

Born: 1685   Died: 1750   Country: Germany   Period: Baroque
Johann Sebastian Bach was better known as a virtuoso organist than as a composer in his day. His sacred music, organ and choral works, and other instrumental music had an enthusiasm and seeming freedom that concealed immense rigor. Bach's use of counterpoint was brilliant and innovative, and the immense complexities of his compositional style -- which often included religious and numerological symbols that seem to fit perfectly together in a Read more profound puzzle of special codes -- still amaze musicians today. Many consider him the greatest composer of all time.

Bach was born in Eisenach in 1685. He was taught to play the violin and harpsichord by his father, Johann Ambrosius, a court trumpeter in the service of the Duke of Eisenach. Young Johann was not yet ten when his father died, leaving him orphaned. He was taken in by his recently married oldest brother, Johann Christoph, who lived in Ohrdruf. Because of his excellent singing voice, Bach attained a position at the Michaelis monastery at Lüneberg in 1700. His voice changed a short while later, but he stayed on as an instrumentalist. After taking a short-lived post in Weimar in 1703 as a violinist, Bach became organist at the Neue Kirche in Arnstadt (1703-1707). His relationship with the church council was tenuous as the young musician often shirked his responsibilities, preferring to practice the organ. One account describes a four-month leave granted Bach, to travel to Lubeck where he would familiarize himself with the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. He returned to Arnstadt long after was expected and much to the dismay of the council. He then briefly served at St. Blasius in Mühlhausen as organist, beginning in June 1707, and married his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, that fall. Bach composed his famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565) and his first cantatas while in Mühlhausen, but quickly outgrew the musical resources of the town. He next took a post for the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar in 1708, serving as court organist and playing in the orchestra, eventually becoming its leader in 1714. He wrote many organ compositions during this period, including his Orgel-Büchlein. Owing to politics between the Duke and his officials, Bach left Weimar and secured a post in December 1717 as Kapellmeister at Cöthen. In 1720, Bach's wife suddenly died, leaving him with four children (three others had died in infancy). A short while later, he met his second wife, soprano Anna Magdalena Wilcke, whom he married in December 1721. She would bear 13 children, though only five would survive childhood. The six Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046-51), among many other secular works, date from his Cöthen years. Bach became Kantor of the Thomas School in Leipzig in May 1723 and held the post until his death. It was in Leipzig that he composed the bulk of his religious and secular cantatas. Bach eventually became dissatisfied with this post, not only because of its meager financial rewards, but also because of onerous duties and inadequate facilities. Thus, he took on other projects, chief among which was the directorship of the city's Collegium Musicum, an ensemble of professional and amateur musicians who gave weekly concerts, in 1729. He also became music director at the Dresden Court in 1736, in the service of Frederick Augustus II; though his duties were vague and apparently few, they allowed him freedom to compose what he wanted. Bach began making trips to Berlin in the 1740s, not least because his son Carl Philipp Emanuel served as a court musician there. In May 1747, the composer was warmly received by King Frederick II of Prussia, for whom he wrote the gloriously abstruse Musical Offering (BWV 1079). Among Bach's last works was his 1749 Mass in B minor. Besieged by diabetes, he died on July 28, 1750. Read less
Bach: Transcriptions of Concertos by Vivaldi & Marcello / Sophie Yates
Release Date: 05/28/2013   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 796   Number of Discs: 1
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Bach: Secular Cantatas Vol  4 - Academic Cantatas  / Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan
Release Date: 07/08/2014   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 2001   Number of Discs: 1
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Bach: Lutheran Masses / Rilling
Release Date: 05/27/2008   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 7027   Number of Discs: 2
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Bach: Original Works And Transcriptions By Franz Liszt / Schmidt
Release Date: 05/31/2011   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 11025   Number of Discs: 1
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Bach: Six Trio Sonatas / Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players
Release Date: 06/24/2014   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 803   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Sheep may safely graze (Schafe können sicher weiden)

 

About This Work
Known in its original German diminutive as the "Jagdkantate," the full title of Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata No. 208, "Was mir behagt," (Hunting Cantata) in English translation is "The cheerful hunt is all that gives me Read more pleasure." It is likely that Bach wrote the work, one of his best-know secular cantatas, in 1713, for the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weisenfels on February 23 of that year. At this point, Bach had been commissioned to stage a series of concerts at Weisenfels, and one of the works he composed especially was this, arguably his first "modern" cantata, to texts by Solomon Franck. According to Bach scholar Konrad Küscher, "courtly celebration always takes precedence over classical accuracy" in Bach's secular cantatas, "but the use of mythological names for the solo voices at least guarantees some slight dramatic action." In this allegorical setting, four solo voices are employed. The roles of Diana (a goddess associated with, among many other things, the moon and hunting) and Pales (a divinity associated with cattle), were given to sopranos; Endymion is sung by the tenor, and the bass singer takes the role of Pan. Duke Christian apparently had a great love for hunting, and Diana sings that hunting was indeed the favored recreation of gods and heroes of antiquity. Endymion appears, only to find that he is rejected by Diana, his lover, who seems interested only in the progress of the hunt; Endymion sings of his remorse in two linked arias with recitatives. As the pair join for a short dialogue, it becomes clear that Diana's action is not a deliberate attempt to spurn Endymion. Rather, as she sings, since today is the birthday of a great hunter, the Duke Christian, she has focused her energies temporarily on the celebrations, in which she is now joined by Endymion himself. A similar pattern of arias and recitatives now follows the appearance of the other principal voices, in the roles of Pan and Pales, who also join in unreserved Ducal praises, before they are joined by Diana and Endymion, who serenade the Duke in duet. Pan and Pales each sing a further aria, before the cantata ends with a rousing chorus. It is interesting to note that in this work, the principal singers were equipped with props, reflecting their allegorical and mythological characteristics. Diana, for example, carried a hunter's spear, and later on, Pan presented his shepherd's crook to the Duke, laying it at his feet, suggesting that the work was performed, originally at least, in a semi-staged fashion. This highly stylized antique characterization was further heightened by details of Bach's imaginative orchestration. A pair of hunting horns provides an obbligato part for Diana's aria, and the first aria sung by Pales features accompaniment from two recorders. This is the familiar "Schafe können sicher weiden" or " Sheep may safely graze," the subtext of which was designed to show the Duke's beneficence and kindness to his subjects. Certain numbers found their way into later cantatas by Bach, and, as Küscher concludes, "the Hunt cantata was an example of Bach's early vocal music, that he was pleased to draw on throughout his further career."

- Michael Jameson Read less

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